Volleyball – Over and Doubt


One Misplaced Pass Can Lead to Many Possible Faults

By Suzanne Dodd

Crushing an opponent’s overpass can be one of the surest ways for a team to win a point and gain momentum. It’s a foolproof way to excite any hard-hitting attacker, the attacker’s team and the fans. Big middle hitters dream about smacking down the overpass while the defenders flail about helplessly.   

When a team’s first contact either enters the plane of the net or passes completely beyond the plane of the net, an overpass has occurred. A smart opposing hitter will take advantage of the poor pass and go for the kill, setting up as many as five possible outcomes on the play. That creates a lot of information for a first referee to process — all within a split second.

The set-up.

When any part of the ball enters the plane of the net, either team has a right to the next contact. If the overpassed ball occurs on service reception, the receiving team will rarely have a blocker in place for defense and the missed pass often results in a strong attack or carefully directed blocking action by the serving team. If the misplaced pass occurs at any other time during the play, blockers and/or setters will often be at the net, creating a more challenging situation for the referees.

The possibilities.

With at least five possible outcomes on an overpass, a referee must be in good position, pay attention to the timing of the contact(s), anticipate who might make the play, and show good court awareness.

The first cue the referee should look for is the position of the ball with respect to the net plane. A ball may be legally contacted by either team once any part of the ball enters the vertical plane of the net.    

To judge ball position, the referee should be centered directly down the plane of the net as the ball approaches. The referee’s focus should then quickly shift to the ball to determine who contacted it first if there are players at the net. 

It is important to note that while an overpass may not appear to be an attack hit, by definition, any ball directed toward the opponent’s court is considered an attack hit and may be legally blocked by the opponent. However, attacking a ball that is entirely on the opponent’s side of the net is illegal. A referee must be sure that the ball entered the net plane before the opponent may attack it. 

Since a ball that is in the plane of the net is fair game for either team, if players on both sides simultaneously contact the ball, it is possible for the ball to momentarily come to rest between the two opponents. A “joust” is a legal contact, and play continues. After a joust, if the ball immediately lands out of bounds, the team on the opposite side of the net is at fault as it has provided the impetus to send the ball out of bounds.

Timing and anticipation are important skills for making the correct call at the net. When a ball is falling near the net, players on both sides may attempt to make a play on the ball. Therefore, the referee must anticipate the timing of the contact(s), and determine who hit the ball first. 

The sequence of contacts is especially relevant when a back-row player is involved in the play at the net. Identifying the setter’s position before a rally begins is imperative so that the correct call can be made immediately. However, if a referee is unsure about the setter’s position at the time of contact, it is acceptable to make a delayed fault call for an illegal attack or block by the back-row player. When a back-row setter contacts the ball that is in or near the plane of the net, the key question to ask is: Which team made the next contact? If the opponents made the next contact, then an illegal attack should be called if the ball was entirely above the top of the net when the back-row setter contacted it. If, instead, the next contact is made by a player on the same team as the back-row setter, then play continues. The result is entirely different if the back-row setter is near the net but the opponents contact the ball first and block the ball into the back-row setter. If the back-row setter is reaching higher than the height of the net, then the setter becomes an illegal blocker.

As if concentrating on the position of the ball, sequence of events, positions of the players, and proximity to the net is not enough, the referee must also judge the legality of the ball contact. An overpassed ball can present problems for the next player to contact it, but especially for a setter trying to save the ball. In trying to keep the ball on the same side of the net, the setter may attempt a set and double contact the ball. Maybe the setter will decide to go for the kill and dump the ball, in which case a caught or thrown ball becomes a possibility. The referee must also look for the opponent to over-control the ball during a block, making a catch/throw a possibility.

The overpass creates a demanding situation for a referee. There are many factors for the referee to process, many possible faults, and some ways for play to continue. The referee must be on his or her toes to determine: a) the location of the ball in relation to the net; b) who touches the ball first; and c) the position of the player(s) who make contact with the ball. Further increasing the complexity of the situation, the referee must also be alert to net contact by either team, possible centerline violations and the height of the ball at contact. 

Be ready. Know the rules. Think fast.

Suzanne Dodd, Greenville, S.C., is a PAVO National volleyball referee and line judge and a USA Volleyball Junior National referee. She is adjunct faculty at Anderson University in Anderson, S.C., in the Department of Kinesiology.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 04/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Well Grounded in the Rules

How the Turf Can Influence the Game


Whether it’s dry or wet, artificial or natural, the surface on which the game is played can have a marked influence on how the game is played and on specific plays.

Muddy fields favor the running game. Many believe a slick field helps the players on offense because they know where they are going, while the defense doesn’t. When a runner slips and goes down by rule, no one credits the ground with the tackle. Instead, the closest defender gets the stat. There are several scenarios, though, in which the ground can be a factor.

The ground cannot cause a fumble. That’s an oft-spoken phrase in football. Actually the ground can cause a fumble under NCAA and NFHS rules even though there is no requirement for a runner to be down by contact. It would, however, be a very rare occurrence.

The veracity of that phrase lies in the fact that, 99.9 percent of the time, when the ball is freed from the runner’s grip as it hits the ground, the ball is already dead. It is dead because a part of the runner’s body other than a hand or foot had touched the ground before the ball touched the ground. That body part might be a knee, the side of a thigh or the forearm. Contact with the ground by any of those body parts causes the ball to become dead. Forward progress is marked at the foremost point of the ball when the contact with the  ground occurred.

So how can the ground cause a fumble? While in a runner’s possession, the ball contacts the ground before any part of the runner’s body other than a hand or foot, and that contact causes the runner to lose control of the ball, then indeed the ground has “caused” a fumble. As you can imagine it would be a most unusual play. The runner would have to either stumble and try to use the ball to regain his balance, he could “lay out” or be flipped heels over head, so that the ball contacts the ground before the rest of the runner’s body, other than perhaps, the free hand.

The ground can cause an incomplete pass. Catching a ball involves more than simply gaining control of it. It means gaining possession of the ball in flight and first coming to the ground inbounds (NFHS 2-4-1; NCAA 2-2-7). If an airborne player receives the ball and lands so his first contact is inbounds, he has caught the ball. Barring contact by an opponent, if the first contact is out of bounds, there is no catch and the pass is incomplete. If a player controls the ball while airborne, but loses possession when he lands, there is no catch. Thus, the ground can cause an incomplete pass.

One fairly common scenario is a player who gains control of a ball in flight while he is in mid-air. He then comes to the ground with a foot just inside the sideline and falls to the ground out of bounds. When the player contacts the ground, the ball pops out from his hands. That may occur either with or without the ball contacting the ground.

Some will argue that is a completed pass because the catch was completed when his foot touched the ground. Admittedly, the player has certainly complied with the exact requirements of the rule, but the key is “possession.” While it appeared to the eye that the player gained possession of the ball, the fact that the ball came loose upon contact with the ground is proof the player did not have sufficient control to satisfy the rule. That sort of qualifies as “evidence after the fact,” but that’s what the rule requires.

That principle applies regardless of where the airborne receiver comes to the ground: out of bounds, inbounds, in the middle of the field or the end zone. In the preceding scenario, the play did not end when the receiver’s foot touched the ground inbounds — the ball remained live. Such a play ends when the receiver touches out of bounds and, as described, the ball becomes loose at the time it is to be declared dead.

Let’s take the same airborne receiver and have him gain control between the hashmarks above the end zone. He then comes to the ground in the following sequence: first foot, second foot, hip, back. The ball pops free when his back contacts the turf. Is that a catch? One argument can be that not only was the catch complete when the first foot touched the ground, but the ball was dead because it was in the end zone. Again, failure to maintain control of the ball until the player has completely come to the ground indicates that the rule requiring possession was not satisfied. The result is an incomplete pass.

The ground cannot commit a personal foul. Perhaps that’s not as widely known as the first two phrases, but it’s certainly valid. That phrase was probably coined by Randy Campbell of the Mountain West Conference. Randy uses that phrase to encourage officials not to stare down at the ground after a play ends (a common fault among prep officials, especially when marking the progress spot). Dead-ball fouls, especially at a sideline, are almost always formulated in the mind of the perpetrator while the ball is live and executed within three seconds after the ball becomes dead.

In order for a late hit to occur, the potential offender must be in proximity of an opponent. Piling on or late hits near the runner are relatively easy to catch because officials tend to watch the player with the ball. Fouls away from the play are more difficult, but only because some crews are not disciplined to keep all 22 players in view after the play ends. It’s not difficult to maintain vigilance for three seconds and it is a key component of good dead-ball officiating.

Of course, dead-ball fouls can occur after the threesecond vigilance period. Opponents may begin the dead-ball interval with verbal jousting that escalates to physical confrontation. The syllables themselves may constitute taunting. Officials should monitor all bantering among opponents. If opponents remain near each other after a play ends, there is a potential problem and the nearest official should close in and let his presence be known. In many cases that will be enough to deter any extracurricular activity.

A common distraction to dead-ball officiating is the ball itself. Some officials incorrectly make chasing the ball their first priority after the play ends. That task should be left to the ball boys if the ball has gone outside the sideline and to the players if it remains on the field. It is OK if the game is momentarily delayed while the ball is retrieved. The teams will eventually get into the routine of taking care of the unneeded ball.

If necessary and the circumstances permit, an official can fetch the ball once all players have started to return to their huddle or a new position.

Written by George Demetriou. A football official since 1968, he lives in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/08 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – Umpires Earn ‘A’ in Type ‘B’ Obstruction

By Steve Harms


attended the state tournament in my home state of Illinois. There was a play late in the Class 4A title game. While watching live, I wondered how the umpires were going to rule, and started running through all the possibilities in my head.

But after watching the video and speaking with the plate umpire … well, let’s get to the play before I reveal what I thought.

The game was between Lyons Township and Oak Park/River Forest. They are both in the West Suburban Conference and had split four earlier meetings in the season. Lyons came into the game as the defending champion and no “large school” team had repeated as champion since 1958-59.

Entering the sixth inning, Lyons (the visiting team) trailed, 3-2. The leadoff hitter doubled to left field and a pinch runner was brought in. The next batter grounded out to first, advancing R2 to third.

B3 popped out to second base, making it two outs in the inning. B4 hit a ball deep in the hole at shortstop. F6 made a great backhanded stop, but his throw was low and late to F3. B4 was safe and the pinch runner scored the tying run.

R1 then stole second and was in scoring position. On the third pitch, B5 lined a clean single to left field. F7 charged the ball hard and fielded it cleanly on one hop. Since there were two out, R2 was off on contact, no doubt hoping to score.

F5 turned toward the outfield and backed up into position to handle a cutoff throw when he and R2 made contact about 12-15 feet from third base. R2 fell headfirst into third base.

So there was obstruction, but the question is, does the run score?

The relevant rule is Type “B” obstruction — because there was no immediate play being made on R2 (NFHS 8-3-2; NCAA 8-3e [2]; pro 7.06b). Under all rules, that’s  a delayed-dead ball, so play was allowed to continue.

NFHS rules require the runner to be awarded at least one base, but since he hadn’t yet reached third at the time of the obstruction, that is the only base he was guaranteed. However, the umpires were entitled to award base(s) they felt the runner would have achieved had the obstruction not occurred.

Since there were two out, the offensive coach would certainly argue that the runner was going to score the go-ahead run. The defensive coach would say there was no way the runner would score on a one-hop single to left field and the game would remain tied.

Either way, someone was not going to be happy with the decision.

When the obstruction occurred, my focus turned to the plate umpire. He had immediately called the obstruction, as he was responsible for the runner touching third. In Illinois, three umpires are used in the state title game. With two outs, U1 was stationed in the “A” position and U3 was in the middle of the field, no matter the runner configuration.

Since I focused on the umpire and his actions, my review of the play is from the video of the game that I saw.

As I watched, one second later, I could see that F7 fielded the ball cleanly and was preparing to throw to the plate.

R2 was still on top of the bag at third after being tripped, while F5 had continued to play and was in position for the cutoff. F6 was headed toward third base for any defensive play that needed to be made.

F7’s throw was just a few feet up the third-base line in fair territory, very near the plate. It got there about two seconds after release and did not hit the ground.

After the play stopped, the plate umpire called time and awarded the runner … third base.

When it happened live, I wondered if the plate umpire was going to score R2 and, my initial reaction was that he certainly could have done so.

After having the opportunity to review the video and “freeze” the action at each second, I think it was a great call.

When the obstruction occurred, R2 had not yet reached third base. F7 fielded the ball cleanly and his throw was on target, arriving at the plate about three seconds after the obstruction. I don’t think there’s a runner alive, with the possible exception of Usain Bolt, who can cover more than 100 feet in less than three seconds, and that would only be if it were a straight shot. R2 had to round third, so his distance and the time it would have taken were definitely increased.

After making the call, the plate umpire explained his ruling to the offensive head coach and the game continued with a tie score.

The game ended in the bottom of the seventh inning when River Forest’s leadoff hitter tripled. After two intentional walks, a clean single to right ended the state title game in walkoff fashion.

After the game, the plate umpire told me there were several reasons he didn’t score the run — the position of F7, the fact that the hit was a line drive directly at F7 and the quality of the throw.

He went on to say that if any of the following had occurred, he probably would have scored R2:

• If the ball had been to the right or left of F7 by even two steps.

• If the ball had been bobbled by F7.

• If the throw had skipped past (or “air-mailed”) F2.

• If the throw had not been on target.

In each of those cases and in the play involved, the benefit of the doubt has to belong to the person who was obstructed. If the plate umpire had any doubt that the run would have scored, the proper call would have been to award the base and penalize the fielder for committing the obstruction.

The plate umpire also told me  he was grateful that F7 didn’t see the fall and then decide to throw to second base or lob the ball in. It was “the perfect storm” of events after the obstruction call.

Some say the best games are the ones where umpires aren’t seen, but in that case, the plate umpire was seen making a great call at a key moment in the biggest game in the state.

Steve Harms, Warrenville, Ill., umpires high school and college baseball.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 10/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – Clean Up the Screen

We’ve seen the play a multitude of times. The ballhandler is dribbling up the court when a screener sets a blind screen on a moving opponent and huge collision occurs. Every person in the place sees the collision and an exasperated gasp comes over the gymnasium. Was it legal or was it a foul?

To understand the impact of the play, officials have to not only watch the defender, but also have to watch the screener to determine position. In PlayPic A, Number 15 has approached the play to set a ball screen for the dribbler. The defender is unaware of a potential screen and is moving in an attempt to continue a closely guarded count on the dribbler. In PlayPic B, the collision occurs. A blocking foul (illegal screen) has to be whistled on number 15, who has moved into the path of a moving opponent (number 10) and it is too late for that opponent to stop or change direction. To set a screen on a moving opponent, the same principles on distance apply as when an initial guarding position is taken on a moving opponent without the ball. The opponent must be able to stop or change direction. If ample room or space is given, and number 15 had come to a complete stop in position, any contact would be ignored (or possibly ruled a foul on the defender).

Also notice the position of the feet of the screener. The NCAA enacted a rule this season that states the normal stance of the screener shall be approximately shoulder width (NCAA 4-57). In PlayPic B, clearly number 15 has his legs too far apart, greater than the width of his shoulders.

It can be very difficult for the official on the ball to officiate this play. Primary coverage is on the ballhandler and opponent and all of the sudden a huge collision has occurred. The off-ball official(s) will have the best chance at locating the screener and determining the screener’s position to know whether or not the screen was legal.


Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 04/07 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Softball – Trouble Area

Partner Communication Essential for Tough Plays at First


By Jay Miner

The last half of the distance from home plate to first base is one of the biggest trouble areas in softball. To stay on top of those sometimes surprising and often spontaneous events, it is vital for umpires to have understanding, communication, cooperation, judgment, common sense and thoughtful reasoning focused in that area. A comprehensive knowledge of the rules is also important as there are variations among different codes.

The base umpire will make most of those calls, but the plate umpire has important calls, too. The plate umpire must be aware of when to step up and make a call and when to be an observer of the action and wait to be summoned to provide additional information that may have been unseen by the base umpire.

On infield grounders with no runners on, the base umpire will move from position A behind first base to a calling position in fair territory. The plate umpire will exit to the left of the catcher and trail the batter-runner to first base moving not more than half of the way to first. With a runner(s) on base in a two-umpire system, the plate umpire exits to the left of the catcher on the first-base line extended to observe the play at first and be prepared to rule on a possible pulled foot or swipe tag by the first baseman, if requested by the base umpire.

Plate umpire’s call. If the throw to first base originates from in front of the plate, the plate umpire must be ready for possible three-foot lane interference by the batter-runner on the play going to first base. The plate umpire is responsible for ruling the ball fair or foul and determining if the batter-runner has at least one foot in the three-foot lane or if he or she is outside of the lane.

Three-foot-lane interference is primarily the responsibility of the plate umpire and results in an immediate and aggressive call: “Time! Time! That’s three-foot lane interference. The batter-runner is out.” Stand tall and sell the call.

Any other runners on base when three-foot lane interference occurs are entitled to remain on the last base touched at the time of the interference. In NCAA, other runners are returned to the bases they occupied at the time of the pitch (TOP).

Three-foot lane interference can occur only on a play going to first base. It cannot occur on a play going to the plate area.

Shared coverage. Usually, the plate umpire will call tag plays and other situations on the batter-runner the first 30 feet up the line and the base umpire will call the last half of the distance to first base. When a tag is near the halfway point, the two umpires must make eye contact to decide which umpire makes the call. If one umpire wants the call, he or she will point aggressively at the play with his or her left hand to show he or she has the call. The intent of the technique is that the other umpire will see the point and back off on the play.

It’s best to pregame that situation and determine ahead of time who will likely make the call. Usually, the umpire with the best view of the play should make the call. If the base umpire is in position C or D, it probably will be a lot easier for the plate umpire to take most tag plays in that situation.      

Batter-runner steps back toward home. When the batter-runner steps back toward the plate to avoid or delay a tag, the ball is dead and the batter-runner is out. Any other runners on base are entitled to the bases reached at the time of the infraction, except in NCAA, where runners are returned to the bases they occupied at TOP.

Swipe tag/pulled foot. The base umpire should concentrate and strive to get all swipe tags and pulled foot calls correct, and especially when they are on the same side of the diamond as the call. When help is needed the base umpire should ask for additional information from the plate umpire before making the call. The base umpire should not give the call to the plate umpire but should ask for specifics when needed. For example, “Joe, do you have a tag?” “Julie, did she pull her foot?” The plate umpire should not give an opinion on the swipe tag or pulled foot unless asked.

The base umpire should strive to get the angle to see a pulled foot at first base when on the same side of the diamond but may request help before making a call.

Dead-ball calls. Dead-ball calls on overthrows will be called primarily by the plate umpire but may be made by either umpire. Either umpire can make other dead-ball calls.

Interference and obstruction. Either umpire can make interference and obstruction calls. The majority of interference calls result in an immediate dead ball and obstruction calls are always delayed-dead.

Jay Miner is a longtime umpire, rules interpreter and former assigner from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 09/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – What’s the Rush?


By Jim Momsen

What does the phrase “leaving early” mean to you? Is it what you do when the conversation at a get-together starts getting heated about referees? Is it the act of exiting from your day job before the normal end of the day so you can get to your match assignment on time? Or, is it your explanation to a coach when he or she asks why you called the positional fault/illegal alignment on his or her team’s setter?

Let’s look at the third situation and ponder why some referees use the phrase more often than others.

Typically, “leaving early” describes the action of the receiving team’s setter moving to get into position to receive a teammate’s pass during serve-receive.

The rule that applies is “positional faults.” The description of a positional fault/illegal alignment is almost universal in NCAA, USAV and NFHS. Here’s the essence of the rule: The team commits illegal alignment or a positional fault if any player is not in the correct position, according to the location of his or her feet in contact with the court, at the moment the ball is contacted for service.

Are the receiving team’s players allowed to move before the service contact? Absolutely, as long as they still conform to the above rule!

So when is “leaving early” most prevalent? The setter is usually moving when he or she has a long distance to travel to get to his or her desired area for receiving a teammate’s pass. The three positions where that player needs to travel are when he or she is in receiving serve in position five (left-back), position four (left-front) or position one (right-back). The problem is that they may start their movement before the contact of service, and have moved to a different position relative to their teammates when the serve is contacted.

If that happens, what is the actual fault? Not that they left early, but, because of where they are located in relation to their teammates, they have committed a positional fault. The other terminology that is often used is that they are “overlapped,” though overlapped is typically used when two players start in the wrong positions.

The second referee should be watching the positions of the players on the receiving team at the time the ball is contacted for service. The second referee can listen for the sound of the service contact while watching the receiving team. You can tell when the hit is about to occur because the receiving team tends to become more tense and ready to react to the serve. Also, the setter is focusing on the server to begin his or her movement.

So, how do you describe the issue to the coach? Unless it is a blatant positional fault, warn the coach of any potential positional fault, whether it is the setter leaving early or that two teammates are getting very close to committing a positional fault. If you blow the whistle to call a positional fault, give the coach the numbers of the players that are out of position and where they should be and always use the terminology of the rule. For example, “Coach, number six is left-back and was to the right of number 12, your middle back, at the time of the service contact. That’s a positional fault (or that’s illegal alignment).”

Jim Momsen, Hartland, Wis., is a PAVO and USAV national referee and trainer, and a high school referee.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – Granting Timeouts


A point of emphasis this year in the NFHS revolves around the proper granting of timeouts. In the PlayPic, team A has just scored a basket and team B has the ball at its disposal for the ensuing throw-in. It is too late to grant a timeout to team A in that scenario. Team A may request and be granted a timeout only until the ensuing throw-in begins.

The throw-in begins when a player from team B has the ball at his/her disposal and the official has begun the five second count as shown. Be cognizant of coaches wanting to call timeouts, but don’t grant it to a team not in control of the ball if the request comes too late.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/07 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – All Eyes Are On You

Plays at the Plate Get All the Attention


By Matt Moore

There are close plays all over a baseball field and in every game. Half-steppers at first base. Fingertips on stolen base attempts. Pitches at or just below the knees throughout the game.

But nothing gets (or deserves) the amount of attention, anticipation and excitement of a play at the plate.

That excitement is heightened because of the collisions that are legal in the professional game. But even at the amateur levels, nothing comes close. Either a run is going to score or a rally is going to be cut short. The throw comes in. The runner slides (or crashes). Time seems to stop.

Knowing the rules, proper positioning and mechanics that govern plays at the plate will keep you from a bad result when all eyes are upon you.

Rules. In the professional game, almost anything goes. The catcher is fair game and the runner, in many cases, will treat him like a football tackling dummy. The closer the play, the more likely the collision will be violent. As long as the catcher holds the ball, the runner is going to be called out. I’ve never seen a runner ruled safe because there was no actual tag on a collision.

It’s different in NCAA and NFHS games. Because of safety concerns, collision and obstruction rules are in place to protect both the runner and the fielder.

The runner must be trying to reach the plate, while the catcher cannot deny access to the plate without the ball (NFHS 2-22-3) or without possession or being in the act of fielding the ball (NCAA 2-54).

Dave Yeast, the former NCAA national coordinator of umpires, explained the legal requirement on the runner in possibly the best way I’ve heard. He said that since the plate is in the ground, the runner can’t make contact high (i.e., a collision) and be trying to reach the plate at the same time. That got written into the 2011-12 NCAA rulebook (8-7) with this language: “If the defensive player blocks the base (plate) or baseline with clear possession of the ball, the runner may make contact, slide into or make contact with a fielder as long as the runner is making a legitimate attempt to reach the base (plate). Contact above the waist that was initiated by the baserunner shall not be judged as an attempt to reach the base or plate.”

The NFHS rule (8-4-2c) is stricter, declaring that a runner is out when he “does not legally attempt to avoid a fielder in the immediate act of making a play on him.” The runner is out and the ball remains live unless there was interference or malicious contact. That puts the onus of all contact onto the runner as long as the catcher has the ball.

What the rules do not cover, and can still happen on plays at the plate, are the so-called train wrecks — those plays in which the runner does what he’s supposed to do, the ball arrives at just the right (wrong) moment and there is a collision. Even violent collisions can be legal. If the catcher catches the ball in front of the plate and turns and, at the same moment, a runner has already committed to his next step, there is going to be contact. Neither has the ability to just disappear.

One additional item related to collisions: A runner who has already touched the plate can’t be called out, even if the contact is malicious. He can still be ejected, but his run counts. The lone exception to that is the force play slide rule.

Proper positioning. Some umpires firmly believe in taking plays at the plate from a set location, whether it is the third-base line extended or the first-base line extended. Both positions have faults, however.

From the third-base line extended, you can’t see a swipe tag on the runner’s backside. And from the first-base line extended, you can get blocked out and not see if the runner reached the plate, especially if he cuts to the inside.

Because a play can develop from a wide variety of angles, the best place to start is just off the dirt circle and directly behind the point of the plate. That gives you the option to read the throw and adjust accordingly. Stay along the outside of the dirt circle so that you keep your field of vision wide. You may end up along one of the foul lines extended, or you could possibly circle all the way around and end up in fair territory.

One thing you’ll have to be ready for is previous runners, the on-deck batter and the pitcher getting in your way. Use your voice to keep them clear, but also be aware they can be guilty of obstruction or interference.

No matter how you adjust and move to get the best angle, you should still be stopped and set for the play when it happens. Being set, however, does not mean dropping to one knee. That traps you and gives you little opportunity to move or react to a bad throw or a runner’s sudden movement.

Mechanics. There are two specific things you need to be aware of when it comes to your mechanics of making the call — timing and the runner actually touching the plate.

Even though everyone is waiting with more anticipation than normal considering the magnitude of the play, there is no need for you to rush.

A good technique is to call the runner safe as soon as you determine that he is, but to ensure that you see the ball — “Show me the ball!” — before you call an out. More than one umpire has been fooled thinking that an out has occurred at the plate only to find the pitcher chasing the baseball that has gotten away.

The scoring of a run is final, so once you have ruled the runner has met his responsibilities, you can’t turn back. That is why the plate is treated differently than other bases when it comes to the runner missing. If you signal safe, the run has scored. You can’t make that (or any) signal until the runner is either out or has touched the plate.

Yes, that tips off the defense when no signal is made, but the defense isn’t the one who made the mistake of not touching.

Matt Moore is a Referee associate editor.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 11/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – A One and a Two and a …

How to Set and Maintain a Good Tempo


By Jon Bible

Before a game last season, while the rest of the officials on my crew were on the field handling their pregame duties, I was visiting with my TV liaison. He had watched a high school game the night before and was appalled at its poor tempo. He opined that one aspect of creating a positive image and establishing confidence and credibility that could stand more attention was tempo — crew members, and the crew as a whole, maintaining a smooth and consistent rhythm and pace throughout the game.

I think the first step in ensuring a good flow to things is establishing a time frame for pregame crew matters and sticking with it. Has the game time and site been confirmed? Do the crew members know that information?

Where and when will they meet and how will they travel to the site? Who is responsible for handling what parts of the pregame? Where will it be held, when will it start and roughly how long will it last?

Officials tend to be antsy before a game, and the more confused and uncertain things are, the more one’s comfort level decreases, which can seriously impair onfield performance. To prevent that, the crew chief cannot leave things to chance. Rather, he must ensure that everyone knows in advance what they and the others will be doing and when they will do it, then adhere to the script and insist that others do so. Depending on how things work in your area, part of that may be ensuring that the school or game manager has been contacted and advised of when the crew will arrive.

If some or all officials have defined pregame duties, they need to be carried out in an orderly and timely manner. In the Big 12 Conference, for example, there is a set time when the umpire and I are to meet with the coaches, the ball boys meet with the side and field judges, the game and 25-second clock operators meet with the back judge, the head linesman meets with the chain crew and the referee microphone is to be delivered to the dressing room and an onfield mic check is done. The crew goes on the field in shifts to monitor team behavior and compliance with uniform policies. It is essential that those things are done per the prescribed time frame, and I will notify our boss if something goes awry. For example, if the umpire and I go too early to find the home coach before the game (an hour and 15 minutes before game time is the scheduled time), it can be off-putting to him. That in turn can affect how things go when the game gets started.

Once the game starts, the referee is in charge of setting its tempo. A vital part of that is having a set rhythm in marking the ball ready for play. If that is done too quickly, the offense may not be able to communicate its next play and get the right personnel in. If it is done too slowly, things drag. Worst of all, if it is done inconsistently, no one knows what to expect and things get out of kilter.

A-One-and-a-Two-and-a-ScreenshotMental count. I make a practice of mentally counting after the play ends before I blow the whistle to mark the ball ready for play. If the previous play is a run up the middle, meaning the umpire will likely spot the ball quickly, I count to 10. If it is a play in the side zone or an incomplete pass, it will take a few seconds to relay the ball in to the umpire, so I count to eight. The goal is to be consistent and blow the ready 18 seconds after each play ends.

I’ve experimented with counting to four, five, seven, etc. Last season I went to eight to 10 seconds, and that seems to work well. Part of my calculation involves the fact that my umpire spots the ball a few seconds quicker than most umpires. To compensate, I need to be a tad slower in blowing the ready than other referees. For whatever reason you may find that counting to a different number works better, but the important thing is to count to some number. If you do, you will be consistent throughout the game and the teams will quickly adapt to, and get in step with, your pace in marking the ball ready. That will go a long way toward ensuring a smooth flow to the game. You don’t need to wait the full eight to 10 seconds if the offense goes to the line and it is apparent they are ready to go. In fact, if you do wait, you can cause problems by keeping them from getting the snap off as quickly as they’d like. In a hurry-up offense with the clock running, you want to be sure that the crew is in position and the players are on the proper side of the line of scrimmage. But you need to be consistent in marking the ball ready and not get in too much of a hurry. If you do, you will hurt the offense if you wait the normal amount of time for the ready. When everyone is set, get things going.

Another aspect of tempo is how the crew moves on the field. Sometimes an official has to bust his rear to get to where he needs to be, but most of the time we can glide seemingly effortlessly to our proper position. A crew can seem “not ready for prime time” if its members are running around like chickens with their heads cut off instead of operating in “cruise control,” as former NFL Director of Officiating Jerry Seeman used to call it.

When a play ends in midfield, the wing officials don’t need to come racing in — unless the goalline or line-to-gain is threatened — but instead can simply take a few steps forward to give the umpire the proper spot. Staying back also gives the wing officials a wider field of vision, which is helpful in dead-ball officiating. Also, when a play ends, it is counterproductive to have multiple officials converging on the dead-ball spot. The crew should use the “ring” concept, with the covering official watching the immediate pile of players (and not getting so close to the pile that he can’t see the “big picture”). The next-nearest officials watch action in the ring around the pile and the other officials look at the remainder of the field. In sum, cruise control not only creates the perception that the crew knows what it is doing, but it also results in better field coverage.

Penalty enforcement has a vital tempo aspect. It can be done expeditiously while losing nothing in terms of accuracy. There is, for example, no need to have a crew conference on a simple false start. The referee should confirm that it is a false start, get the player’s number, give the signal (and make the announcement if applicable) and get on with it. Although they are sometimes necessary, crew conferences create the perception of uncertainty and detract from the overall flow of the game. In my experience in watching games, there are generally far too many confabs. If you don’t have something constructive to offer to the discussion, stay away. In addition, precious time is lost when the referee needlessly gives a preliminary signal (on a false start or delay of game, for example) or walks 10, 15 or 20 yards away to give the signal on a foul.

Ballhandling. The crew’s ball mechanics involve tempo. The ball should be carefully relayed from one official to the next, taking care to ensure that it can be caught chest-high and will not be dropped. Nothinglooks sloppier than balls bouncing around the field because they were hastily or inaccurately thrown. The game flow is disrupted when officials have to chase balls that have bounced several yards away.

When the play ends, don’t be too quick to get the ball or to look for a new one from a ball boy; be sure that there are no dead-ball fouls or other problems, get a ball in a cruise-control manner, then calmly and deliberately relay it in. Try to do so in the same manner and pace throughout the game.

Finally, be conscious of the time between quarters, after trys or field goals, during halftime and during timeouts. If the rule says that X amount of time is to be allotted, have someone on the crew track it to be sure that no more or less is granted. When everyone is lollygagging around and timeouts and halftimes stretch several seconds (or minutes) beyond the allotted time, any semblance of game tempo is destroyed.

Pay attention to tempo before and during a game, and your performance, and the extent to which others perceive you as capable and in control will be greatly enhanced. Jon Bible is a veteran football official from Austin, Texas. He is a referee in the Big 12 Conference.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Right People, Right Place, Right Time

Making the right moves in assigning isn’t easy. Assigners must make sure all the pieces are in the right position. Find out what strategy is involved in the assigning game.


By Matt Moore

It takes a special person to be a good assigner. You’ve got to find the right people, send them to the right place and do it at the right time. Look what happens if you don’t:

• Send a crew (the wrong people) to a game that is above their skill level, and all hell can break loose. The game will end up out of control and there will be many angry people. Two second-year officials were randomly sent to a girls’ basketball game on a Monday night. The only problem was it was a rivalry game that would decide first place. The game was intense from the word go and the officials weren’t prepared, individually or as a crew. By halftime coaches, players and administrators were upset. Both officials were out of their league that night. Problems caused, not problems solved.

• Send a great crew (the right people) to a game where they aren’t needed (the wrong place), and a lot of hard feelings will exist. An ex-professional baseball umpire worked a small college game and was offended when a coach called him, “Blue.” After the umpire’s reaction, the coach was so annoyed that the umpire had lost all credibility in the coach’s eyes and the coach was on the phone to the assigner that night. Problems caused, not problems solved.

• Send a great crew to the right game and sometimes that’s not even enough. There are too many variables to know for sure in advance if things will go well on any given night of the season. All it takes is one misstep, one coach having a bad night and one official not handling one situation correctly. Look at any game in the highest professional level and see ejections in baseball or technical fouls in basketball. The crew was “right” for the game, but maybe not that night, for whatever reason. Again, problems caused, not problems solved.

So what makes a successful assigner? Simply put, it’s the one who more often than not gets the right people into the right place at the right time.

That topic was explored during the 2013 NASO Sports Officiating Summit with an expert panel of assigners, past and present, weighing in on what they believe were the keys to their successes.


For high school and college basketball assigner Donnie Eppley, the first key is to be patient. Eppley assigns for 42 high schools and 38 colleges and universities throughout the Northeast.

“I have to wait for other levels to assign,” he said. “And on my staff, I have about 200 basketball officials at the collegiate level. Many of them work at other levels to include Division I, II and III.

“What I’ve got to do is to wait for those levels to come out. So the Division I assignments will begin to come out in early August. It takes about a month for that entire process to take place. And then the Division IIs will take their opportunity to grab some of the officials. And then it’s crunch time for me because our season starts around mid-November and guys want to know where they’re going to be working. So I have to be patient.”

Once Eppley, the associate executive director for IAABO, starts scheduling his games, he does each official individually.

“I pull up somebody’s name, match it against their availability, and then I make an entire schedule,” he said. “It takes about 20 minutes to do a schedule, anywhere from 20 to 30 games for my officials. After I finish my college assignments I have to get busy with the high schools.”

Because he assigns at multiple levels, Eppley is able to develop officials for the next level. “We’re able to identify young talent and keep the people going through the system,” he said.

Eppley also makes it a point to balance veteran officials with younger officials).

“As I’m hiring new people, and last year I had turned over about 31 new officials for Division III, I take those officials and give them a variety of preseason assignments, some tournaments and various levels of assignments that actually balance somebody that’s been around for a while with a rookie to get them some experience at the collegiate level,” he said.

Time management is a big key for Eppley, whose full-time job with IAABO comes first.

Marty Hickman is the executive director for the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), so the only assigning his office does is playoff games. But because those are the games with the most importance in his state, it’s still critical to get the right people on the right game.

“It’s important that for us at the high school level certainly to know the teams in the rivalry type games and to know the personalities of the coaches and the officials and try to get a good fit in there,” Hickman said. “And that’s one of our toughest assignments, especially in a situation where we have a lot of officials and a lot of games and having to identify some of the games that might be more troublesome than others.”

Hickman and his staff got an up-close-and-personal experience in dealing with a troublesome situation at the 2013 state basketball tournament. “I can tell you,” he said, “if the executive director is getting involved, something’s gone horribly wrong.”

The Class 2A championship game was marred with accusations of racial slurs, leading to technical fouls and an unprecedented demand from Hickman himself at halftime.

“(We) expressed our concerns to the schools about what had occurred in the first half, including three technical fouls, a player ejection and a bench warning,” Hickman told the Chicago Tribune at the time of the incident. “The onus was put on the coaches to provide the necessary leadership to change the tenor of the game. We also made it very clear that if things did not change, we would take the unprecedented step of canceling the game.”

Hickman and the staff knew the game had potential to be rough, but probably not as rough as it was.

“We’ve got a north/south kind of rivalry, we’ve got a very rural school and a city school,” he said. “They’re 350 miles apart and cultures apart. And from the very tipoff the game really didn’t go well.

“We thought we had done literally everything right in terms of looking at this game. We knew this was coming. We thought we had the right officials.”

Hickman praised the officials, but said that the game just got out of hand early, resulting in his unprecedented intervention.

“So this is just an example of how even with a lot of preparation, things can go wrong,” Hickman said. “But it also provides some very teachable moments for us as we move forward in our assigning process.”


Getting officials to buy into the vision of the person leading the staff — whether it is a state office or a college conference commissioner — is critical for success and not always easy.

“I think it’s really important that you have your top people understand the path that you’re going to travel, and it takes a lot of communication,” said Ed Rush, who officiated in the NBA for 31 seasons and was the director of officiating for the league for five years. He’s also the former coordinator for officials in the Pac-12 Conference.

“I had been with the Pac-12 for six years, and I worked on the side of development,” he said. “And then in the last two years we actually developed a sense of measurement, and we had a program where we did game grading. And it was a system that was strong enough that it was 45 percent of their ratings.

“There were a lot of folks that were loving that, and they just seized the moment. And then there were a handful of guys, that’s a pretty dramatic change, and they really had trouble with that.”

Rush ran a three-and-a-half day camp for his staff, spending a full day on the NCAA-mandated topic of sportsmanship and bench decorum.

“We talked about principles. It was very successful. As a matter of fact, 10 out of the 12 coaches actually went out of their way to say this is the best,” he said, because the coaches knew the boundaries and that officials were consistent with those boundaries.

Rush resigned as the conference’s coordinator a week before the 2013 Final Four because of an incident in which he made a joking reference during a pregame meeting with his officials in an attempt to ensure coaches would receive a technical foul if they didn’t behave better on the sideline during the next game of the tournament.

Rush said he learned a lot from the experience as it relates to working with officials and developing a staff.

“The takeaway from that for all of us in leadership is that when you’re in leadership and basketball is an emotional game,” he said, “you really have to be very careful about what you say, who you say it to, how you say it.”

Sometimes, getting the right people on the floor can be made more difficult because of the rules that restrict who can be assigned.

Joan Powell, the NCAA’s national coordinator of volleyball officials, assigns the officials for three national tournaments — a difficult job for sure to be responsible for officials across the country and across three levels.

“I have four great regional advisers,” Powell said. “One actually is a retired volleyball coach, two are veteran officials and one is a conference coordinator. And with those people I’m able to travel quite a bit in the fall and also evaluate and see a lot of officials.”

Complicating matters for Powell is that the NCAA Division II and III staffs no longer want to wait on Division I to assign playoff officials. The Division III Volleyball Committee selected officials in February for the season, and the Division II committee selected its officials in March.

“Officials (weren’t) being evaluated for their body of work for 2013, (it was) actually 2012,” she said. “But that’s what Division II and III want to do. Nominations come from their conferences and from volleyball coaches.”

The rules and the assignments are different in Division I. Powell assigns line judges as well, something she doesn’t have to do at the lower levels. Also, she is limited to a 400-mile radius. However, she does get to fly some officials when necessary at that level.

There can still be problems.

“It’s very easy for (postseason officials) to talk about how everything’s already pre-determined and that the NCAA already decides who they want,” she said. “It’s not true at all. I have to be cautious of what has happened in the past during the season, whether or not there were conflicts with coaches, whether or not this is a good venue for a particular official to be at. We put them in crews but they don’t necessarily advance as crews.”


There are complications in getting the right person to the right place at the right time at every level. Two that were discussed are officials staying on top of when they are available (since they are independent contractors) and working together with other officials.

“To have the best crew, you have to understand team officiating,” Rush said. “You have to understand that in a three-person system, what you do on the floor has to elevate the performance of the other two officials.”

The decision to become an assigner isn’t an easy one, because in most cases, it means coming off the field or court.

“I miss (officiating) so much,” Powell said. “There’s just some aggravation that comes and some consternation being an assigner. There’s some great pressure. But in officiating you kind of leave it behind. You debrief afterward in the locker room and then you’re able to move on.”

Part of being an assigner, however, is dealing with what happens when it’s the wrong person, the wrong time or the wrong place — it only takes one of the three.

Hickman stresses to officials who work championship games in the future that they are there to take care of business. “We’re fearful at our level that what happens sometimes in a championship game is our officials take the attitude that they don’t want to really influence the outcome, they are going to let them play. They’re maybe going to let the coaches get away with a little more than they should, and it’s exactly the wrong thing to do.”

While Hickman can meet with the officials he assigns, since they are all at one site, Eppley can’t get to his officials with more than a general message through email. But the coaches sure get to him with their opinions of games, crews and calls.

“I have a rule where the coach can’t call me on game night, so they’ve got to review the film and then contact me the next day,” he said. “And that applies to all levels, high school and college. They’ve got about a 24-hour period to get over it. The officials — if there’s a problem in the game — have got to call that night so I’m aware of it.”

Rush liked what Eppley requires, calling it powerful.

“On any situation I encourage people to call, but we have watched everything,” Rush said. “And there were many times coaches would call and I could say, ‘I know why you’re calling. In addition I have a couple more plays you might want to look at.’

“That’s really disarming. They trust you, they know that people are accountable, and it really changed the dynamics.”


Hickman praised the power of video as it related to his situation in the state finals.

“When the little shove happened in our game there was a gasp in the arena because everybody knew you just can’t do that,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in high school sports. But it took until the folks could really see that video for them to believe that what that kid did was inappropriate. At the moment, they weren’t buying that it was just a little touch.”

Eppley requires his Division III officials to register through  the ArbiterSports central hub for basketball, because of the training videos.

“I believe all officials at all levels should see those videos because it’s the same game regardless of the level,” he said. “I think they do an excellent job of putting those on the site.”

So far, it’s all been about what happens when one of the three elements — right people, right place, right time — is missing. What about when it all goes right?

“The biggest joy that I get is the postseason,” Eppley said. “Last year at the Division III level, I had 28 postseason assignments in the four conferences, and I had 21 NCAA assignments. And out of the NCAA assignments I was able to send a crew to the Division III Final Four, and that’s very satisfying.”

Rush noted he switched the system in the Pac-12 from opportunity given to opportunity earned.

“We put six new people into the tournament, and every single one of them graded in the top 20 percent during the tournament itself,” he said. “So being able to see them succeed in a higher pressure level in a place that they’d never been before, to lay that foundation to me I think that’s the leaders of the future. That was really gratifying.”

Hickman is very proud of his state’s officials.

“When all those pieces come together and they get an opportunity after many years of service to work a championship game or a state final game, and to see the looks on their faces and to see how much joy they have as being part of that experience, it’s really heartwarming.”

For Powell, it’s the chance to be the bearer of good news.

“I think it’s the phone call telling somebody, especially a first-timer in postseason, letting them know that they have been nominated and they have been assigned to a postseason game,” she said. “It’s just so gratifying to hear that ‘Woohoo!’”

Matt Moore is a Referee associate editor. He has umpired for more than 25 years, mostly at the high school and college levels.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 03/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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